Britney Spears hasn’t released an album since 2016 and hasn’t performed live since 2018. In January of last year, she went on an indefinite work hiatus. But this past summer, the pop star made headlines. The subject of the controversy? A 12-year-old, court-ordered conservatorship that, thanks to a series of social media posts, has sparked a new debate.
Across TikTok, Twitter and Instagram, using the #FreeBritney hashtag, Spears’ fans and conspiracy theorists surmised—without supplying any evidence—that through the conservatorship, Spears’ father was manipulating and unfairly profiting off of Spears. They alleged that Spears, through a series of Instagram videos, was trying to express that she was being abused.
The facts, though, were much less dramatic: Spears’ father had stepped down from the conservatorship in 2019 for health reasons, and recent court documents lay out that the conservatorship is, in fact, voluntary. The court-ordered conservatorship was established in 2008 following a series of public mental breakdowns—including the time she infamously shaved her head and attacked a paparazzi’s car. The conservatorship, also known as a guardianship, requires Spears to get approval from her custodians before making major life or financial decisions, with every purchase, no matter how small, being recorded. Since then, the conservatorship has periodically become a topic of headlines, with fans calling for Spears to have control over her own fortune.
Still, the online outrage brought questions about Spears’ net worth to the forefront, with fans spreading rumors that she was worth upwards of $250 million. Court filings reviewed by Forbes revealed that Spears’ fortune—which sparked the #FreeBritney movement in the first place—was around $60 million at the end of 2019. The overwhelming majority of that, about $56.5 million, sits in investment accounts, business investments and real estate, while the rest is in cash. Her fortune comes from her lucrative career as a musician: Spears has sold nearly 150 million records worldwide, according to Billboard. With that hit music came touring—she’s done 10 major tours, in addition to a Las Vegas residency—as well as licensing deals, including for 19 popular fragrances.
So how did one of the world’s most famous singers who, according to Forbes, has earned more than $30 million a year in eight of the last 20 years, not make this year’s list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women? For one, a majority of Spears’ earnings gets paid to others: Forbes estimates that about 25% of her gross income goes to her agents, managers and lawyers, as is standard for any star. After that, 40% or more goes to Uncle Sam (and state and local governments) in tax payments. Then there are her expenses: She pays about half a million dollars in child support each year to her ex-husband Kevin Federline, one source told Forbes, plus millions since 2008 in legal support and fees related to the conservatorship.
As for the #FreeBritney movement? It seems to have died down, though the court cases surrounding it have not. Last month, Spears began the legal work to permanently remove her father as a custodian of her estate and put independent firm Bessemer Trust Co. in charge.